For a peek into how others are working, Loretta Flockhart invites writers and illustrators
to reveal a few secrets about their creative spaces, processes and tools.
This month we hear from writer and illustrator, Wendy Meddour.

Dr Wendy Meddour is an internationally successful children's author and the Director of Creative Writing at Exeter University. Her stories are known for addressing difficult topics in a thoughtful, heart-warming and uplifting manner and recent books include Lubna and Pebble, Ibble and GrandpaHoward the Average GeckoThe Friendship Bench and Peggy the Always Sorry Pigeon. 

After gaining her PhD, Wendy spent 8 years teaching English Literature at Oxford University before publishing her debut children's book, A Hen in the Wardrobe, which came second in the Branford Boase Award for Outstanding First Novel in 2012. Wendy has gone on to publish over 25 children's books with leading publishers, many of which have been translated into over 18 languages. Wendy was Winner of the Margaret Wise Brown Prize for Children's Literature in 2020.

Lubna and Pebble – Wendy's latest book

Tell us about your creative space.

I don’t really have one. My picture book ideas often come unannounced. Many have come to me when I’m driving. At traffic lights, I’ve been known to look like I’m talking to myself, in character, doing a mafia-style Joan, the don’t-mess-with-me seagull in Peggy the Always Sorry Pigeon. Or an arrogant gecko, like the lead in Howard the Average Gecko. On both of these occasions the idea landed fast and I had to pull up in a lay-by and record the dialogue and overall structure onto my iPhone. Then I tend to scribble it down in one of my favourite notebooks, (I always keep one on me).

Wendy in her creative space, writing outdoors

If I’m writing something longer or heavier or am further along in the process, I’ll treat myself to a writing session in a café or pub – preferably in the middle of nowhere – where I’ll set up my laptop near a sea view or an open fire. Currently my preferred spot is Dartmoor. These photos are from a recent writing day. An hour writing in the car followed by a few hours in a pub.

Wendy's creative space – writing in the pub

I know I should have but I don’t have an allocated place for writing at home. We’ve not got masses of space and the children tend to use up all the desks. Sometimes I sneak into their rooms and borrow one of theirs while they’re at school or college, but I got rid of the desk in my bedroom as it made me feel like I never had any time off.


Inspiring views while writing in the car 

What are your creative tools?

I like to use a black pen and notebook, an iPhone for recording ideas and a functional laptop for getting the MS down.


Do you have a routine? 

No. I’m a full-time lecturer and a single parent so I’ve always written in the gaps. This is probably why I get a lot of ideas in the car. It’s my space between things. But when a project is underway, I’m a complete write-aholic and find it very hard to stop. I’ll write anywhere.

Wendy's recent books

Do you need prompts to get started? 

No prompts needed. I never have enough time to get all my creative thoughts down.


What is the best creative advice you’ve been given?

I haven’t really been given any. I’ve always worked in quite a solitary way. When I started writing for children, I didn’t know anyone else who did it so just went about it in my own way. Feedback from editors and agents has probably been the most instructive thing in my writing career.


Wendy with some of her books

What was your favourite book as a child?

My parents used to read me Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry every night, (which got me hooked on the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear), along with the Ladybird fairy-tale collection – ‘Who’s that clip clopping over my bridge?!’ And my mum used to make up wonderful stories about goblins too. She’s a natural – way better than I could ever be. 

The first books I remember reading on my own were The Magic City by E S Nesbit, Flossie Teacake Strikes Back by Hunter Davies and The Great Smile Robbery by Roger McGough. And I was a huge fan of Quentin Blake’s illustrations whenever and wherever they popped up. The way all of these books still make me feel is hard to describe. But it’s the best feeling. Like coming home.


Are you a planner or a pantser? 

I’m not a great planner. Ideas tend to flow, and my job is to try to keep up with them. I wish I guarded my writing time better but I often forget I’m a writer or that I can legitimately claim ‘time out’ of my working or parenting duties to write. It always feels like a guilty secret – like eating After Eights for lunch. Perhaps this is because I enjoy it too much?


Tisha and the Blossom, Wendy Meddour

What inspired you to first start writing and illustrating? 

My love of books combined with having children were the things that got me started. I remember that I was still reading children’s books for pleasure when I was teaching English Lit at Oxford Uni, so they’ve clearly always held a central place in my life and heart – but when I had children they were so fearlessly creative I think I wanted to join in. They were busy enjoying the creative process: of making books, stapling them together and asking me to write the words. Their confidence probably made me realise that I didn’t need permission to have a go.


And why for children?

Because children are some of the best thinkers we have.

You can find Wendy here:

Insta: Wendy.Meddour

Twitter: @wendymeddour

*Header image: Shannon Ell

*All other images courtesy of Wendy Meddour


Loretta Flockhart is the Creative Secrets editor, and features editor, for Words & Pictures.


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